Monday, May 24, 2010

on the maleness of Godtalk, part 2

don't miss this post from Jamey Walters over at Becoming What We Are: "Metaphor, Idolatry and Theology."

and, while you're there, find out why Battlestar Galactica kicks LOST ass.

Friday, May 14, 2010

I'm an (8 year old) single lady?

I hesitate to even blog about this because I am uncomfortable about embedding this video or linking to it...

First: yeah, "not my daughter." Hell no. I won't even buy her a secondhand knockoff Barbie at the thrift store. Why? Because I want her to have more images of women than the caricatured sexuality that is Barbie to internalize as she grows up.

Beyond that initial parental instinct, though, this video presents a particular fraught and acute version of the dilemma I regularly face as the fem theologian mommy of a precocious daughter: how to separate out the genuinely childlike joy of dress-up, pretend play, movement and dance and song--and the horrible metanarratives our patriarchal--no, let me go further: subtly misogynistic--culture provides for the acting out of those beautiful children's instincts. How can I help my daughter separate out the desire to be beautiful and wear princess dresses from the helpless passivity of all these godforsaken ubiquitous princess narratives she soaks up like a sponge? How can I help her enjoy the gift of her body without learning that she can only enjoy it through the process of making others desire it?

(Further complicating that is the problematic stuff associated with any sort of public high-pressure competition for children, but let's just bracket that for a moment. Those concerns apply equally to children's beauty pageants, dance competitions and national spelling bees...)

So here's how I parse things out. Is it wrong for these girls to be up on stage dancing? Is it wrong for them to enjoy the ways their bodies can move and enjoy being good at moving their bodies? Absolutely not. But let's have a reality check here. Those girls did not choreograph their own dance routine, choose their music, make their own costumes. Some adult(s) in the background made those choices for them, and made them without any consideration (apparently) about what those choices would mean for the girls they were supposedly acting on behalf of. Do these girls have any idea what their skimpy outfits--outfits designed to display the sexual characteristics of female bodies they haven't even developed yet!--or movements like hip thrusts or shimmies are actually communicating, given the cultural context of this performance? Not to mention the awesome lyrics of a song that literally, verbally, reinforces the message that women are property who should be properly marked as owned before they give away their sexual favors. Maybe these girls have some dim idea--which is actually worse than having no idea at all, I would think. But what the adults in control of this situation have done is encourage these talented girls, who surely have developed their talents in dance at least partly out of the sheer joy of movement--to offer themselves as sexualized objects in order to do what they enjoy and are good at. Lesson learned: the only way to be who I am and do what I want is through the mechanism of being an outstanding object of sexual desire, even before I get my boobs.

Oh, that's awesome. Congratulations to everyone on that.

Not to mention, this gem of a video is on youtube, and when these amazing girls grow up and, say, apply to college, and later for jobs, there it will be. Forever archived on the ol' intertubes. That's gonna really help them out later on in life, isn't it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

cheap tricks

Having lived the entirety of my decade of married life as a poor grad student bouncing from student housing apartment to another--till landing in this fabulous rectory, The Gwynne House, a year or so ago--I have my own set of "cheap tricks" for making it on a shoestring budget patched together from stipends, student loans, and part-time waitressing gigs. But I'm interested in your cheap tricks. What are your favorite ways of pinching pennies, making a meal out of the random oddities in the cupboard at the end of the week, etc.? I'm looking for everything from recipes for your favorite cheap meals to advice on navigating grocery stores without falling for those endcrap displays...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

from JW: Passive Resistance for Gender Equality in the Church

The assumptions about how scripture functions and the ability to “interpret” it within Churches of Christ have produced a number of faulty readings of Scripture. The most obvious example is the staunch stance that (many) Churches of Christ take on not using instrumental music simply because the NT does not discuss the use of instruments in music. However, the NT also does not address the use of technology in worship, but I hear no churches arguing that it is wrong to use microphones. Churches of Christ are inconsistent on the application of such principles as “speak where the Bible speaks, silent where the Bible is silent,” and it results in no small number of problems when describing the idiosyncrasies of our worship.
Some problems, however, do not result from the silence of scripture, but rather from the perceived certainty of what scripture actually does say. For example: the commands for the silence of women in the church (see 1 Corinthians 14:35-36; 1 Timothy 2:11-13). For many churches (not just the Churches of Christ), the interpretation of these passages is clear: women must be silent. However, there are problems with the certainty with which this conclusion is offered.
  1. We do not actually require women to be completely silent. When Churches of Christ sing their characteristic a capella songs, there are female voices as well as male. Clearly, even we do not take this command to its fullest extent to require absolute silence.
  2. The reasoning that a woman cannot teach/preach because the text says no woman can have authority over a man ignores other scriptural witnesses of the authority of women. I offer as an example Phoebe of Romans 16, who is both a patron and deacon of the church at Cenchraea, not to mention that she is likely the carrier of Paul’s letter and therefore the representative of Paul to Rome. So unless we presume that the churches in Cenchraea and Rome were completely made up of females, it is beyond doubt that Phoebe had authority over men and was appointed to such a position by Paul, the presumed author of the above texts in question.
Given these two points, it seems reasonable to conclude that simply referring to 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 as “proof-texts” to not include women within the worship service is problematic. And we can come to this conclusion with a “na├»ve” reading of the text—that is, it does not require any special approach or interpretation to see that the example of Phoebe contradicts the injunctions against women having authority. It just requires good philological and historical tools. But for those who cannot read Greek, it requires honesty by our Bible translation committees—I’m looking at you NIV.
I do not believe it is possible for any person to arrive at the biblical text “objectively”—that is, without being formed by preconceived notions and experiences. However, this concept does not apply only to the readers of scripture, but also to the authors of scripture. In other words, those who wrote the words that we read as scripture could not help but be influenced by the assumptions of their various cultures.
One cultural assumption implicit within the commands for silence is that women were simply not intelligent enough to have authority over men. It was assumed that women were not as capable as men, and as a result of this assumption, women were not educated as men were in the ancient world. The practice of not educating women only perpetuated the assumption that women were not as intelligent. And thus, we have evidence of an oppressive system based on faulty assumptions of gender inequality that provides the (implicit) reasoning for the silence of women. The explicit reasoning of 1 Timothy 2—that man was created first and woman second—only serves as a “theological” justification of the culturally assumed place of women.
I hope that no one today still assumes that women are in any way inferior to men. If that assumption persists, there is nothing that I could say that would deter such willful ignorance. So, assuming that we all agree on the equality of men and women, we must take this into account when we read scripture. The authors assumed women were inferior, but we do not agree with their assumption. So how can we agree with their conclusion?
So now we come to the practical aspect: given the stance of the Churches of Christ on women, what should I do? Should I just leave and join a more egalitarian community? Should I become an activist and demand change immediately and loudly? Should I stay and patiently try to work it out with those who would listen? My lack-of-confrontation-personality wants to take option one and just leave. But my attempt to remain faithful to the community of faith that raised me and taught me the Gospel makes me fight against the gut instinct to leave. As for the second option, I do not have the personality to be an activist. That is not to say that I don’t think it is a viable option, I just don’t think it is for me. As for the third option, let’s just be honest here: I am not patient. I don’t want to spend 10 years trying to convince one congregation that it’s okay for women to read scripture publicly but restrict them from the “more important” jobs like eldership and preaching.
Given the fact that I have problems with each of the three options mentioned above, I have been trying to think of another option. For inspiration, I think of the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. in the 1960s, and specifically I think of the examples of passive resistance (like sit-ins, marches, etc…). However, I do not want to stage sit-ins or march to the church house door. So I am still left searching for an expression of my passive resistance. And the more I have thought about this issue, the clearer my answer has become.
My form of passive resistance for gender equality within the church is: silence.
Clearly I do not mean complete silence because you are reading my blog post, so let me explain what I mean.
I think it is wrong for any institution, including the church, to deny someone the opportunity to do something for which they are capable and trained based on gender. For example: my wife, Naomi, has the same ministerial training that I have: an M.Div. from Abilene Christian University. Actually, she has more: an undergrad Bible degree from Rochester College with a minor in counseling. On paper, her credentials beat my own B.A. in Political Science. Moreover, not only is she better qualified based on training, she is better qualified based on gifting: I can write and deliver a sermon, but she can preach. However, despite the fact that she is better qualified on all counts, virtually no Church of Christ (with few exceptions) would hire her over me. This is not just unfortunate or unfair, it is morally wrong.
So, if our churches refuse to let her use her training and gifts, then I will refuse to use mine. Now, those of you who know me may say, well that’s convenient for you since you have chosen an academic career rather than a ministerial career. And I agree. But that does not mean that any church of which I would be a part would not ask me to do things like preach, lead prayer, lead songs, teach Bible class, etc…
To say it more succinctly: I will not work for or serve any institution that would not allow my wife, being equally trained as I, to perform the same job. Yes, this means that I will not work for any university that would not hire my wife to do the same job, but that is not as likely to cause a problem as the church scenario.
However, in order for this form of protest to mean anything, I must take it one step further. I cannot just refuse the opportunity to preach, lead prayer, teach, etc… without an explanation. I must express the reason for my refusal. Perhaps I will respond to any such invitation with a question: “You know, I’m not very good at preaching, but my wife is. Would you ask her to do it instead?” If the response is “No,” then I will decline and explain my reasoning.
I do not propose this as something that everyone else should do. I would be happy for other (especially my male colleagues) to participate in this form of protest, but only if you choose. This is the form of protest that best fits my personality, so it works for me. I encourage every one who reads this to think of creative ways that you can actively or passively call for change within our churches.
In conclusion: gender equality is not a worship preference issue; it is a justice issue. If you disagree, I hope that you will reconsider. If you agree, I urge you to think about what you can do about it.

originally posted here at Jamey's blog

Friday, May 07, 2010

what line?

Interesting article in ACU's student newspaper, The Optimist, popped up on Facebook today: "Walking the Line: ACU seeks to balance faith, academia."

I'm not seeking to grouse about the article itself. It's not a bad article--does a good job of describing both the typical positive and negative reactions to the, let's call it, "dilemma" of the growing diversity of ACU students. For the first time ever, apparently, self-identified CofC'ers do not outnumber the heathen. (Oh, the horror.)

I'm just continually frustrated that we seem unable to frame this discussion in ways that avoid the dichotomy of Faith versus Reason. Walking the Line? What line? The line that describes the point at which we are supposedly required to turn off our brains in order to believe in God, or swallow CofC doctrine? Blurg. It seems to me that a Christian university ought to be the best place to defy this ridiculous dichotomy--a place whose very existence proclaims boldly that God actually intends for us to use the brains that God gave us, and is pleased and not threatened when we do.

It's not that I think ACU isn't doing exactly that--just that the rhetoric needs to catch up to reality, because rhetoric creates its own reality. And to implicitly accept the Faith vs. Reason dichotomy, as metaphors of walking lines and balancing acts do, actually hinders a theology of a parent-God who is pleased--perhaps sometimes amused, perhaps sometimes amazed--at the speculations and investigations of the brainy little creatures God has made. We gotta get over this!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

defining marriage (not for the faint-hearted or easily offended)

When a three year old asks you "what is 'married,'" it sends you down a surprisingly difficult and philosophical spiral. Just what is the basic "essence" (in quotes, because I hate this word) of this particular human relationship, which we set apart from other human relationships as unique, and grace with special social status and legal rights?

Now, I am not one of those parents who is squeamish or reluctant to chat to my toddler about body parts and where babies come from. When Clare made the intuitive leap that babies in big round bellies exit from their mama's bellybutton, the cuteness of her toddler logic did not stop me from correcting her misunderstanding of this important biological process. Babies come out of vaginas, and she will gladly tell you so, and add that that is a-MAZ-ing.

But for all that, when Clare asked me to define 'what is married,' my toddler-sized definition did not include an explicit reference to sex, or where babies come from. I think I could have managed a version for her that was not alarming and made some kind of sense, but I didn't.

Instead I cobbled together something like, "when two people love each other so much, and they want to be together all the time, they get married and live together in the same house and share everything." Clare's first reaction, after digesting this information for a couple days, was to let me know that she wanted to marry me. Actually, she clarified, we're like, already married, because we love each other and live in the same house and share our things. And now, as I've noted, I've been replaced--she is determined to marry her BFF S---- from school. Because if that's what getting married means, well, that's how she perceives these relationships.

Obviously my definition has some flaws. My little toddler polygynist is just logically applying the information (though she seemed to miss the part about 'two people'). But to be honest, I like it. Particularly because the sexual aspect of the marriage relationship isn't entirely missing--it's implicit, rather than explicit. Share everything.

In the context of these toddler dialogues, NPR's recent piece on challenges to DOMA just highlights the way in which opponents of "redefining marriage" are themselves seeking to literally "redefine marriage." It seems to me that to arbitrate which relationships count as marriage and which don't, on the basis of what sort of sexual acts are engaged in, is to discount as irrelevant everything I included in my definition of marriage for Clare. Is that a "defense of marriage?" (And, let me pause for a parenthetical tangent and note how absurd the name for this law is. "Defense" of marriage? Because people who love each other so much that they want to be together all the time and live in the same house and share everything are the metaphorical equivalent of a terrorist threat? Yes, clearly these people sound horribly deranged.) I thought that marriage is supposed to be a unique and sanctified human relationship, something that the biblical text dares to use as a metaphor for our relationship to God and God's relationship with humanity and Jesus' relationship to the church--but it seems to me that in so vigorously "defending" marriage, the definition of what it is that's being defended has been stripped down to the bare naked sex act. Defense of "marriage" is just defense of the holy and singular privilege of penile penetration of female passivity.

This is not a marriage my daughter would recognize as marriage. And I intend to keep it that way.

Monday, May 03, 2010

vote for Neal

Here's one of those free and painless ways to help someone help someone else in potentially life-changing ways.

Go here: and vote for Neal's idea.

I don't know Neal but it sounds like he has some good ideas in his brain! Definitely worth a click, and plus, I like conspiring to take $50K away from evil corporations. Very refreshing. ;)